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  • Writer's pictureLisa Harris

Why is it so hard to let go of our stuff?

We’ve all been there. Standing in closets packed with clothes that are decades old or no longer fit. Kneeling next to old keepsake boxes, taken down from the attic once every ten years. Dusting off knick-knacks on shelves filled with memories, reminding us of the beautiful, messy, and everything-in-between lives we’ve lived.

Throughout our lives, most of us end up with quite a collection of stuff, reminding us of the adventures, achievements, and connections we’ve made along the way. Physical items can indeed be powerful reminders of our pasts, and truthfully, it’s only natural for us to want to hold on to and relive some of those memories.

But the flipside of nostalgia is the clutter it creates. Those old clothes in your closet, the keepsake boxes stacked in your attic, and the knick-knacks collecting dust on your shelves all have one thing in common – they’re taking up valuable space in your home. Don’t get me wrong - it's perfectly okay to hold on to things that are meaningful to you. But at what point does meaningful, well… lose its meaning?

If you’re holding on to things that no longer serve a purpose in your life and that only take up precious space in your home, you’ve probably already considered that it might be time to let some things go. Still, no matter how much you’d like to have a clutter-free, organized home, you might also find that you just can’t let certain items go.

If you’re struggling to decide whether you want to keep something (even something you don’t really like), I promise – you’re not alone! As a professional organizer, one of the most common questions I get from my clients is why is it so hard to let things go? Well, first and foremost…

1. Guilt

This is a big one. Many of our keepsakes are gifts or items passed down from a loved one, and it’s hard not to feel guilty when tossing or donating something given to us by someone we care about, even if we don’t necessarily love or use that item.

If you feel guilty about getting rid of gifts, remember that at the end of the day, your loved one probably just wants you to be happy! They would understand that you’re grateful for the thought, time, and money that they might have put into the gift. Besides, donating the item is a great way to get it into another loving, appreciative home, which feels good for everyone!

2. We spent a lot of money on the item.

Many of us struggle to get rid of something because of how much we originally spent on the item, feeling like by getting rid of it, we’re just throwing money down the drain.

There’s a term used in accounting, sunk cost, which refers to money that has already been spent and cannot be recovered.

Instead of focusing on how much money you spent on the item in the past – money you most likely can’t get back – focus instead on how much value that item is adding to you in the present. And if you do believe something is still valuable but you no longer need it, why not try selling it on Ebay or Facebook Marketplace! It’s a win-win!

3. Might feel like a failure

Okay, I think we’ve all be guilty of this one! Raise your hand if you’ve ever kept an item of clothing that no longer fits in hopes that someday you’ll wear it again. Many of us hold onto things because we believe that getting rid of them is a way of admitting failure. For example, when we keep jeans that are two sizes two small because we’re eventually going to fit into them again. Getting rid of those jeans feels like an admission that we won’t lose weight.

Well, first and foremost, you are not a failure. Realize that getting rid of clothes or items that no longer fit your current lifestyle is not about failure, but about realizing that people grow and change, and that’s perfectly okay! Focus on nourishing the person you are today.

4. Decluttering and staying organized is boring and not fun for a lot of people. OR they don’t know how.

As a professional organizer, I genuinely enjoy organizing and creating calm, peaceful and functional spaces for my clients, however, I can understand why others might not find it as fun. In a world of being so busy, decluttering is probably the last thing we want to do with our free time. Or perhaps we just don’t know how! Sometimes we just don’t know how/where to start.

I recommend starting small. Don’t try to declutter and purge your entire home – or even one room – in one day. Focus on a particular area, corner or cabinet of a room and take baby steps. This makes the task far less overwhelming and much more manageable. In terms of making the task enjoyable, I recommend using the time to play some music or your favorite podcast! At the end of the day, even if it’s not the most enjoyable, the end results will be well worth your time.

5. Sentimental

Of course, one of the biggest reasons why we hold onto items is their sentimental value. These items are always emotionally charged, especially when connected to a loved one who may no longer be with us.

Physical objects can help us feel close to the experience or person whose memory is connected to the item. However, as sentimental as these items are, they can sometimes hold us back from moving forward or living our healthiest, happiest, clutter-free lives in the present. When it comes to getting rid of sentimental objects, I suggest taking photos of the item so that you still have something to look back at should you choose to.

Decluttering your life and getting rid of items from your past is not always easy. Whether it’s guilt, money, sentimentality, or all the above that holds you back, remember that when you let these items go, you’re creating space for things that DO serve a purpose in your life.

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